It’s 8:42 am, and hiking is out of the question. I’m bummed. The peaks of the Alps are some of the most stunning in the world, but everything’s telling me to stay put in Verona: real-time local weather forecasts and live video feeds show rain, and it’s predicted to get worse. As much as I want to jump on a train, I know that hiking into bad weather is a bad idea. Instead, I’ll stay in Verona until this evening, then catch a night train to Rome.
Though today is a bust, last night was epic. Kristin and I made a traditional risotto from Verona. To be a true Veronese risotto, you should use Vialone Nano rice, which is very tender. Using a sausage called tastasal is also common, but after reading a few reviews, which said that it has a tough texture, we opted for a local sausage.
When we walked into the macelleria, aka butcher shop, the man behind the counter was thinly slicing beef to be used for involtini. When he saw us, he immediately offered us wine. Great, I thought: this is the way to buy meat! Next, he sliced a couple of samples of house-made salami. When we showed interest in the local Monte Veronese cheese, he used an absolutely huge, machete-like knife to slice us large tastes.
The night before, I’d had a cheese plate with aged Monte Veronese encrusted with sage. The hard cheese had been decadent, nutty and smooth. The Monte Veronese in the macelleria didn’t have sage. One version was aged, making it rich in color and strong in flavor, with a hard texture. The other was fresh and soft, yet retained that excellent nuttiness. I’m beginning to think that Monte Veronese is one of the best cheeses in the world. The gentle texture, the richness and wonderful, dry nuttiness make it excellent alone or in a dish. It seemed decadently perfect for risotto, so we ordered a little of each version of the cheese along with two sausages. After ducking into a vegetable shop and picking up a quarter of a local squash, we were ready to make the risotto.
Most people think that risotto is too difficult to make on a regular basis, if at all. However, when I was in Puglia, I learned that making risotto can be quick and easy. Risotto with squash is delicious, and very simple to prepare. You don’t have to worry about the rice burning. You don’t even have to prepare stock. In fact, an easier, more delicious risotto recipe is hard to imagine.
Squash and Sausage Risotto Recipe
Ingredients (for 2 people):
1 ½ cups of Vialone Nano rice (arborio or other types of risotto rice are also fine)
1 cup peeled and chopped squash
2 sausages removed from the casings
¼ cup grated Monte Veronese cheese (any salty cheese works well, e.g., Parmesan)
½ cup white wine
1 medium size onion, chopped
1-2 clove garlic, chopped
1) Boil roughly 6 cups of water in large pot. Boil squash until soft, then remove from water; reserve the cooking water.
2) Chop onion, garlic, and sausage. Gently sauté garlic and onion in plenty of olive oil for 2 minutes, then add sausage and cook until just browned.
3) Add rice and cook, while stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and cook until almost fully absorbed. Then begin adding the squash water, ladle-full by ladle-ful. Don’t worry about technique here: all you need to do is keep the rice moist. If you need to do other things, add several ladlefuls at once. If you do burn the rice, don’t worry about it: burning rice brings out its starch, making it tender. Just don’t go overboard.
4) Mash squash with a fork, then add to the risotto about halfway through cooking (or whenever convenient).
5) After 20 or so minutes, begin tasting the rice for texture. When slightly al dente, it’s ready.
6) Add cheese, mix, and serve. Chopped parsley makes a good garnish.
The train leaves at 9:06 pm, and I’ll arrive in Rome at 4:52 am tomorrow morning. From there, I’ll catch a train to Frosinone, rent a car, and journey to Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours. It will be my first time in Abruzzo, a mountainous region that is impossible to explore without a car. Supposedly, it is like nowhere else in Italy.
Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com
Wednesday 18th of August 2010
Michael----Too bad you didn't make it to Abruzzo! and thanks for the recommendations.
Dave---Great to hear your kind words. And yes, I've had the time of my life. Pretty darn good.
Tom---I know. I need ANY kind of butcher shop in my neighborhood. They've all been replaced by major grocery stores and the ancient art of butchery is practically gone. It's a lot harder to make a specific meal if you can't ask a butcher to cut just the right cut of meat. The relationship with the butcher somehow creates a stronger relationship between me, the meat, and the animal that it came from. I think this is one example of getting back to the future.
Tuesday 17th of August 2010
I need a butcher shop like that in my neighborhood. Friendly, plenty of samples and some wine. I might not leave.
Tuesday 17th of August 2010
I have really been enjoying your trip through Italy. I drop in every couple of days to see what you have been up to. I can't tell you how envious I am of your trip (especially when I'm hungry). I hope you are having the time of your life.
Sunday 15th of August 2010
Risotto is super easy, isn't it? I don't know where it got its reputation for being tricky from.
I'm rather jealous to hear you're heading to Abruzzo. We desperately wanted to go there earlier in the year but the area was still covered in snow. I spent hours pouring over maps, radars and forecasts trying to concoct a way to get there that didn't involve driving a motorhome over icy/snowy roads.
Consider doing a hike or two in Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga. I recommend doing a google image search of the areas to whet your appetite. Plus, because I couldn't do it I'll just live vicariously through you :)